…But that’s not even the worst part.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

By the second half of Saturday’s Oregon/USC game, I was on to other things.

This isn’t easy for me to admit, nor is it something I am particularly proud of. Ever since I’ve been writing about Ducks Football in this space, one of my constant harangues has been decrying the thin-skinnedness and today’s fan’s inability to stomach a loss…or, as the case is more regularly of late, an ass-whoopin’.

But the first half came and went and I felt I’d seen all there was to see.

Oregon Freshman quarterback Justin Herbert still looks like a kid who has just been passed down his older brother’s too-big-for-him bike. There are signs of him getting it, but overall, he’s still got to put a few more miles on those knobbies to be anywhere near this side of shaky. The offensive line crumpled like a cupcake wrapper around Herbert and didn’t give the Ducks a chance to make up for it on the ground.

Brady Hoke’s 4-3 defense continues to be the doormat of college football. Well, that’s not exactly accurate—it’s more like the great-grandma’s antique afghan of college football. It’s full of holes and it stinks.

Field marshal Mark Helfrich resembles a night manager at Buffalo Wild Wings with that staring-at-the-blank-penboard-for-answers expression and apparently unnecessary headset. (Is he listening to Whitney Houston Pandora on there? I ask this only because he looks pleasantly detached all the time in a sitting in a dentist’s office waiting room kind of way). It’s as if the restaurant is bustling, half the servers didn’t show up, none of the buzzer pagers are working and he’s run out of free wing coupon comps to apologize for the effort. So what does he do? He sneaks into the back office, ignites his vape and waits for the night to be over.

In other words, there were few signs that Oregon was going to have a complete program overhaul over the 15-minute half at the Coliseum and I had seen enough USC white turtleneck and red lipstick cutaways on the commercial break to remind me that at least one of those shiny faces is now old enough to be my daughter. So I turned off the TV and did Frank the Tank-type things with my afternoon.

The things included: A trip to Home Depot for mulch. My son tried to ride on the orange pushcart but the mulch mound seemed unstable. A bag of potting soil also tore in checkout, so I had to run and get another. Trader Joe’s was next. We’d been on vacation, so time to stock upon Joe’s O’s, Dress Circle Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies and some of their frozen veggie burritos thrown in as regrettable midweek lunch choices. The addition of burritos made us hungry so we sneaked into the taqueria next door and had a few tacos and some chips. Out the door for under $15. Pretty nice little Saturday.

I checked the score in the parking lot and in the car on the way home. Maybe I could even squeeze a run in and be back in time for the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. I did and I was. And all I saw was an apathetic Ducks sideline, when they should have been apoplectic. Hugging and jeering and laughing and cavorting.

It’s one thing to have your players stay loose. It’s another thing entirely to watch them stand on the shores with popped Lands’ End collars and Maui Jims hooked on the back cheering on daddy’s sinking ship like a bunch of disaffected trust funders.

The 45-20 final was more about restraint on Clay Helton’s behalf. USC could have easily put up 60 and held Oregon to single digits. But it wasn’t that kind of game. It’s hard to manufacture a rivalry when you’re holding the ball three feet over the head of your opponent and he can barely jump in attempts to grasp it.

If Ducks’ football were a house flipping project (I, admittedly, was flipping back and forth between Fixer Upper and the game during the waning moments of the contest) Oregon would be in full demo phase. That non-supporting kitchen wall, gone. The guest bedroom off the master now combined to make room for the en suite bathroom and the walk-in closet. The separate living room/dining room—combined for one great room.

The only problem with that is it seem like Helfrich and co. are strapping on the safety gloves and goggles with no real plan or vision for how and when to replace it all with granite counter tops, a double vanity, wall sconces or subway tiles. They’re just laying waste to some pretty nice built-ins and wainscoting.

The Ducks lost their fifth in a row to the Trojans. The entire Helfrich administration has yet to figure out how to handle the cardinal and gold. The player of the day for Oregon was punter Ian Wheeler who punted eight times. Oregon didn’t even get a first down till USC had put up 17.

Wheeler may be the most rootable duck in the pond right now.

Through the lean years, Oregon Football has always managed to roll with some pretty colorful characters, a kind of joyful brio that being raised by the sun and the rain in the Willamette Valley can bring.

There was Dave Wilcox’s ginned-up scowl which led the Duck defense to dominate SMU in the 1963 Sun Bowl. His son Josh’s unlikely Rose Bowl-bound grabs at tight end three decades later. There was Matt LaBounty’s spirited play on the defensive line, ushering in the working man’s Gang Green defense at Autzen. Reggie Jordan’s cheshire grin and Jaya Figueras’s fumble-creating machine that carried the tradition into the late-’90s and beyond.

Under center, the preacher from the OC Danny O’Neil, succeeded by the Best-o from Modesto Tony “The Graz” Graziani. Remember when Ryan Perry-Smith would sit there on the Rennie’s balcony and gab to your girl all night while you went ahead and took Jager shots downstairs till you couldn’t find the Glenwood? Jeremiah Taeatafa Masoli, who sacrificed his career for a PC laptop that can be found in your IT guy’s slush pile.

There was Black Mamba’s slippery speed that shocked the shit out of Russell Wilson’s Badgers in Pasadena. And then all the guys who are on a supermodel-like first-name basis with an entire campus, then and now: Akili, Pat, Kenny, LaMichael, Brandon, Romeo, Joey and Marcus. Guys who—regardless of where their careers or lives went next—even as Portland restaurateurs, still descend on Eugene each fall to take in that ritual smell of crunchy leaves, wafting weed and the sky just before it’s about to rain.

For all of us, it has been like family—better than family really. It’s friends you never tire of seeing and stories you never tire of telling.

But something happened on the way to this mess. Maybe it was the weekly uniform distraction or the Apple Storification of the book store, or the suggestion that in order to get better the Ducks need to spend more, a lot more. Something meaningful has been lost and it’s not in the form of games.

Maybe I’m older, more cynical. Maybe I can’t get that excited about young guys inflicting possible permanent damage on their bodies for no money and a questionable amount of schooling.

Or maybe, it’s simpler than that.

Bad and boring, I can live with. But when it’s just not fun anymore—maybe it’s time to walk waddle away.

Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of “Burgundy Upholstery Sky”.


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